A Great Start

Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs

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A Great Start

by Jim DeVoll

If you really want your puppy to get the proper start in retrieving and bird handling, you must establish a solid foundation. To do this he must learn how to handle tender game birds properly. If you just go right into the retrieving of dog training dummies, on to dead birds, then live game your pup will more than likely pick up some very bad habits. The only way to insure a good delivery and proper handling of game is to teach him right from wrong very early on. Table training is so simple and helpful, yet many well-meaning trainers skip right over this step in their training program.

Once you teach your pup how to hold properly, it will carry over to help with a good clean delivery as he gets older. Our goal will be to teach the young dog that the command "hold" means no playing, no chewing, no swinging of the head, just a firm yet gentle holding of the object no mater what it is.

I would suggest teaching hold before ever introducing your pup to birds of any kind. It's a must to have retrieving down pat with a dummy and your pup should be enjoying this game very much. You have to be careful that the table training does not turn the pup off to retrieving.

We begin with the five or six -month-old up on a training table, which is about 32 inches tall. This puts you and the puppy about eye to eye. You can accomplish much more, and have complete control. The control comes through the use of a light cable stretched the length of the table about head high for the dog. With a collar on the pup and snapped to the cable the puppy is secure.

You must first familiarize the youngster with the table - you don't want to begin anything until your pup is completely comfortable on the table with you. Place him on the table, sit down right next to him, he will of course want to climb on your lap and that's ok. Stroke and play with the pup, get up, moving to the other end of the 16 ft. table (one 4x8 sheet of plywood cut in half will give you a 2 ft. x 16 ft. surface.) Praise the pup as he follows you down the table. You must be sure the pup can move freely along the cable. The snap must swivel, and move as the pup begins to walk along the tabletop.

It may take a few days of playing with him, (keep in mind he's up off the ground on this new surface) make it a fun romp every day, better yet a couple times a day would work. In a short while he will be looking forward to the playtime on the training table.

When you are both confident and ready to move on you can begin teaching the hold command. We begin by placing a leather glove (optional) on one hand. I use the right hand. With little effort you can place two fingers in the pup’s mouth behind the canine teeth, your thumb below the jaw will help you hold the fingers in place. The easiest way to get his mouth open is to take your index finger and force it in the side of his mouth. The pup will try chewing, he'll try spitting your fingers out, and he'll raise a fuss trying to get the foreign object from his mouth, don't let him.

At this point we do not give any command. Just calmly hold firm, keeping two fingers behind the canine teeth until the moment your pup stops chewing. At that moment say "give", and let the little guy pull his head away from your hand. You want the pup to learn that only when it stops chewing will you take your hand from his mouth. Much later on your pup will begin to hold and not want to let go of your fingers, just wiggle your index finger on his tongue when saying give.
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